The following is excerpted from Kairos Journal. While it deals with the somewhat arcane subject of work ethics, it has much broader application. As the culture drifts further away from biblical values, Christians need to shift more (not all) of their tactics from public disputation (which must continue) to better art, better literature, better poetry, better novels, and better movies where the beauty, integrity, wisdom and truth of a biblical worldview can reveal to dying culture around us.
Pray for that and give your encouragement to those among us who are fighting the battle in the entertainment and classical arts.
The Real Biblical Work Ethic
The New York dramatist, Elmer Rice (1892-1967), is best known for his 1923 play, The Adding Machine. foIts main character, Mr. Zero, spends 25 years of his life faithfully crunching numbers r a department store until he is replaced by a machine. In a fit of rage, Mr. Zero kills his boss, only to find himself adding and subtracting in hell. For Mr. Zero, life boiled down to punching a time clock and receiving a paycheck—it was a meaningless existence that led to a meaningless afterlife. In The Adding Machine, Rice satirized his perception of the Protestant work ethic. He was wrong. The Protestant or, better yet, Christian work ethic is about much more than punctuality and profit.
Rice’s dreary view of the work ethic is attributed to Max Weber, author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1905.1Weber linked the Reformers’ exaltation of work with the rise of capitalist greed. This thesis must not go unanswered or God’s view of work will be lost. Two careful thinkers who did much to restore a biblical view of work are theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913 -2003) and the British businessman and politician, Sir Fred Catherwood (1925 – ). Henry cut down the Weber thesis, arguing that the Christian work ethic is only loosely connected to the modern “success” ethic. Catherwood continued the discussion with a positive explanation as to what it means to be a “working” Christian.2
Fifty years after the debut of The Adding Machine, Henry confronted a generation of youth supposedly condemning capitalism by rebelling against the Protestant work ethic. Henry wanted them to understand capitalism is not equivalent to the Christian work ethic; in fact, secular society, as Henry put it, “is almost entirely severed from Christian roots.”3Indeed, Henry attributed the “success ethic” of modern America more to the rags to riches stories of Horatio Alger (1832 – 1899) than the theology of Luther or Calvin.4Scripture approves a hard day’s work (the heart of Alger’s philosophy), but when reduced to merely this, the Christian work ethic becomes a secular work ethic and, thus, a “radical rejection of Christianity . . . motivated more by spiritual rebellion than by ethical earnestness.”5Henry was clear: simply working hard for profit is not working for God—God has a greater design for our labor.
Catherwood explained that God’s design for work is about more than punching a timecard and earning a paycheck; it’s about honoring God and loving neighbor. God is honored when His creatures reflect back His creativity and efficiency in making the heavens and the earth. Therefore, the Christian worker innovates, improves, and pushes himself to the very limit. According to Catherwood, the Christian “has a duty to train himself and develop his abilities, both academically and experimentally, to the limit that his other responsibilities allow . . . He should not stop until it is quite clear that he has reached his ceiling.”6 Furthermore, Christians love their neighbors by exemplifying a quiet lifestyle of hard work to their non-Christian friends. By obeying God’s command to work, the believer, said Catherwood, “demonstrates the nature and purpose of God to those who do not believe. . .”7Indeed, hard work can be evangelistic!
Society needs the correctives offered by Henry and Catherwood. Not only has hard work fallen on hard times, but when the modern person hears of the “Protestant work ethic,” too often they think of nothing more than the grim world of The Adding Machine (which has been revived on stages throughout the U.S. and U.K.), the quiet despair of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, and the hollow life of an insurance actuary in Alexander Payne’s 2002 movie, About Schmidt.
It remains for the Church to tell a different tale, a better tale. . . .
3 Carl F. H. Henry, “The Christian Work Ethic,” Christianity Today (January 7, 1972): 23.
4 Horatio Alger (1832 – 1899) marketed the American Dream through a series of books whose popularity was overshadowed only by the books of Mark Twain. He convinced a nation that regardless of one’s humble beginnings, through hard work and integrity anyone could obtain success.
5 Henry, 23.
6 Fred Catherwood, “The Protestant Work Ethic: Attitude and Application Give It Meaning,” Fundamentalist Journal 2 (September 1983): 23.
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
“O God, give me grace to be a light to the world. Give me joy in showing mercy and the humility that is appropriate for a sinner who has no righteousness apart from the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. In Jesus name and for His glory I ask it.”
The book was written in 1986, (how is it possible that 30 years have passed?) but it is more relevant now than it was then. Neil Postman prophetically spoke of this 21st-century culture when he wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death.
I think the mindset that is needed today is exactly what Neil Postman recommended 30 years ago. We need a movement of Christian parents who see their job of raising children as a front line of rebellion against American culture. Why? Because the culture is no longer (if it ever was) a friend of the gospel or of gospel people.
The article below is from the good folks at Kairos Journal. I have added some bold text emphasis. It is short but on point.
Parents, buy the book and read it.
Parenting as Cultural Resistance—Neil Postman (1931 – 2003)
Neil Postman was one of the finest secular prophets of the twentieth century. Associated with New York University for over four decades, he is best known in the Christian community for his analysis of the effects of television in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death.1His decades-long revolt against the supremacist claims of technology remains a vital corrective in contemporary culture. In his book entitled The Disappearance of Childhood, he offers a painful lament at the destruction of childhood through the ‘total disclosure’ of information to children. He concludes the book with a poignant question and answer:
Is the individual powerless to resist what is happening?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is “No.” But, as with all resistance, there is a price to pay. Specifically, resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture. For example, for parents merely to remain married is itself an act of disobedience and an insult to the spirit of a throwaway culture in which continuity has little value. It is also at least ninety percent un-American to remain in close proximity to one’s extended family so that children can experience, daily, the meaning of kinship and the value of deference and responsibility to elders. Similarly, to insist that one’s children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language, and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend. Even further, to ensure that one’s children work hard at becoming literate is extraordinarily time-consuming and even expensive. But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media’s access to one’s children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this. The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they are exposed to, and to provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media’s content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not prepared to give to child-rearing.
Nonetheless, there are parents who are committed to doing all of these things, who are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are not only helping their children to have a childhood but are, at the same time, creating a sort of intellectual elite. Certainly in the short run the children who grow up in such homes will, as adults, be much favored by business, the professions, and the media themselves. What can we say of the long run? Only this: Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help to keep alive a humane tradition. It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service.2
1 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1986).
2 Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (1982; repr., New York: Vintage, 1994), 152-153.
Before refrigeration and big grocery stores people had more gardens and carrots had more variety. Then TV came, grocery stores got big, refrigeration became easier, and Bugs Bunny convinced everyone that the preferable carrot color was orange. But God’s color pallet is much bigger and these heirloom carrots are going to be good in some dishes at our house.
The small pumpkin is just for contrast. It is about the size of a major league baseball. Enjoy the Fall.
The Church needs to know what battles to fight and what battles to let go. Toward that end, we can learn much from Church history. Or …, we could ignore the lessons of the past and just repeat the same mistakes?
Let’s not do that.
Here’s a lesson from the past for the modern Church that we would be well to heed in our politicized and secular culture.
The following is from the Kairos Journal.
To God, What Belongs to God—Ambrose & Valentinian (385)
In the spring of 385, Milan stood on the brink of anarchy. Valentinian, the fourteen-year-old Roman Emperor, was trying to seize control of a church called the Portian Basilica. Supported by his Arian1 court, he wanted to establish a heretical church. Yet in the face of peril,Bishop Ambrosewould not give in; too much was at stake. He was willing to be martyred if necessary, but he would not give up a church to the emperor.2
Emperor Valentinian reigned for a number of years alongside his half-brother Gratian, whose basic beliefs were soundly Christian. But when Gratian died in 383, royal support for orthodoxy collapsed. Arians increasingly dominated Valentinian’s court, and eventually they goaded him into demanding the Portian Basilica.
Bishop Ambrose rebuffed him, so the emperor made another request—that he be given the newly built cathedral instead. Ambrose again refused, and on Palm Sunday, things came to the boiling point. As the bishop was celebrating the Eucharist in the cathedral, he heard that the emperor’s functionaries were installing imperial hangings in the basilica.Ambrosecarried on with the service, but a group of protesters soon formed in the city square. They seized a passing Arian priest and would have killed him had not Ambrose intervened by sending several deacons and priests to save him.
That night the emperor fined and imprisoned many of the leading orthodox citizens. The next morning the faithful responded by occupying both the Portian Basilica and the cathedral. The military encircled the basilica, but Ambrose and his flock stood fast. CitingMark 12:17:“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” they insisted that the basilica was not one of “the things that are Caesar’s.” Soon even Valentinian’s troops began joining the congregation in worship. Frustrated by the populace’s defense of their bishop and the Church, the emperor withdrew his troops.
Valentinian should have anticipated Ambrose’s resolve since this churchman had earlier excommunicated another emperor,Theodosius, for atrocious behavior in office. Bishop Ambrose did not take ecclesiastic prerogatives lightly. Neither should twenty-first-century Church leaders, whether the government sends in troops or mere bureaucrats.
God’s people must pick their battles; confrontation is not always the answer. But a Church which picks no battles, one which never finds confrontation the answer, is likely to be a puzzle, a disappointment, and an embarrassment to brothers and sisters in the fray and to “the great cloud of witnesses,” including Ambrose, who have gone before.
Arians denied the deity of Christ.
St. Ambrose, “Letter 61,” St. Ambrose’s Letters 1-91, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 26 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1954), 365-375.
Here’s the article that EFCA TODAY MAGAZINE asked me to write. I hope it encourages you to live passionately for and like Jesus. They gave it a different title and formatting. You can see the final version by clicking on the link above.
Privileged for a Purpose
Why did God choose you? Why did he draw your heart to himself? Why were you placed in a family or a situation where you heard the truth of the gospel and bowed your …
Today is a day of meditation and prayer. I will be reading about the events of the last hours of Christ on the cross, thinking and praying about the messages I will give this afternoon and evening at Ashkum (4 PM) and Watseka (7 PM).
Who is worthy of such things?
Certainly not me, not anyone.
But Christ is eminently worthy of all the praise and glory and honor that we can bestow on Him. As Jude wrote, He is able …
“… to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Jude 24–25 (NASB95)
In the early second century, perhaps as early as A.D. 130, an anonymous disciple penned these words:
“When our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward—punishment and death—was impending over us …. God Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal.
“For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other One was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified than by the only Son of God?
“Oh sweet exchange! Oh unsearchable operation! Oh benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”
There is great beauty in this early Christian’s words. As I read them again, they reach through the centuries and tell my spirit that this is the faith of the believer. You can sense both his passion for Christ and the humility of his own heart as he writes about the great exchange of our wickedness for the righteousness of Christ.
The theological term for that exchange is imputation. Our sins were imputed to Christ. His righteousness was imputed to us. What exactly does that mean? It means that that the blame and responsibility to pay for our sin was laid on Him who had no sin of His own.
It means that we, who had no righteousness to commend ourselves to God were given as a gift of God the righteousness of Christ.
“O sweet exchange” indeed!
Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1885). The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 28). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.